How to Beat the Hidden Competitor?


In your desire to win an opportunity you often get caught in this irresistible pressure to beat your competitor. You bring all ammunition to convince your prospect why your company is the better choice for their business. Your contact person seems to listen with great interest. Why is it then that so often these opportunities stall? Despite your follow-up and further relationship-building-attempts, across the organization, your prospect just goes quite. You hear nothing. When analyzing why this happens, have you considered there is another competitor you are competing with? It’s The Hidden Competitor.

A Hidden Competitor is anything your prospect thinks is a reason not to change. And there are many! They may say to you: “Call me back in six months”, or “The team found your presentation interesting but we are good for now” – what their real reason for not continuing having meetings with you is:

  • We have other priorities right now
  • We have a ten-year relationship with our current supplier
  • Other people in our organization like the way things are now
  • The current set-up gives us stability
  • It was my decision to go with our current supplier
  • My neighbor works for our current supplier

Shall I go on? Customers like to test the market, hence they are meeting with you. To see what you got. But, what they say to you and think is different. Your real competitor is hidden and hides within the customer’s organization. You are losing time focusing on the wrong competitor!

To overcome a Hidden Competitor you need to 1. Realize that their reason not to change is their perception. They believe they have other priorities or that a ten-year relationship with their current supplier should not be disturbed. And 2. You need to come to their table with plenty of reasons why they should change.

There is only really one effective way of how to do that. You change the customer’s perception, through having them to listen to business reasons for making a change. You can say: “Your current set-up may not deliver the results you are looking for”. Why is that so impactful, and why can that change someone’s perception?

For example, imagine you are walking in the jungle on a path you perceived is safe. If a guide, however, shows you that the path you are following, will come across lions and dangerous hippos, although you thought it was safe, would you continue walking the same path? Or, would you be interested to know if there is another path to get to your destination? It works the same in business, people tend to listen to risks, especially if it comes from people they trust.

That’s what you need to do when you discover a Hidden Competitor. Ask for the opportunity to show that the customer’s current set-up has risks they may not be aware of. Continuing that path may lead to revenue losses or enduring higher costs they would like to avoid. That risky path may affect their profits, their market position, their plans for growth, and expansion. This is not easy for salespeople to do, but it is crucial to get assertive and show guts to get in such business conversations. You got to deflate the customer’s perception of their current set-up in a respectful way. Only then you can show the new path and how a better world will look like if they make that change to you as their new partner. Then you will have overcome the Hidden Competitor.

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